Manchester housing strikes over pay and attacks on conditions

Over 170 members of Unite, the UK’s largest union, employed on social housing maintenance contracts in Manchester, will begin strike action on Monday 15 May in a bitter and protracted dispute concerning workers being paid different rates for the same work.

The dispute involving workers at private contractor Mears and joint venture organisation Manchester Working concerns the long-term failure to tackle unfair pay, with pay differentials being up to £3,500 for the same job. Workers are also angry over recent attacks on terms and conditions, specifically Mears reneging on an agreement to remove pay differentials across and within trade groups.

The workers undertake repair and maintenance work on social housing properties and public buildings across the city.

Manchester City Council is currently in the process of breaking up the joint venture company and much of the workforce has been TUPE – transferred to Mears.

In the run-up to the TUPE transfer in January 2017, Mears reneged on a previous commitment to tackle pay differentials.

The new contract the Mears workforce are expected to follow demands a more flexible approach to shift working, additional working hours and days as well as greater use of technology, without any real increase in pay.

Mears is also seeking to introduce a ‘productivity procedure’ which is effectively a ‘sackers charter’ and has been pressurising the workforce into accepting poorer conditions regarding sick pay and vehicle policies.

Highly skilled workers are being paid significantly below the regional average, with many workers on just £22,000. Other workers on the same contract are receiving £25,500 for the same work.

The first strike action is on Monday 15 May and there will then be rolling strike action every Monday, Thursday and Friday until the dispute is resolved.

Unite regional co-ordinating officer Andy Fisher said:

“This is a long running sore and members are no longer prepared to put up with low pay and different rates for the same job.

“To make an unhappy situation even worse members are now facing attacks on their terms and conditions by Mears which is seeking to boost its profits at the expense of workers’ wellbeing.

“This strike action is not being taken lightly and it will mean that tenants won’t receive urgently needed repairs and planned maintenance will be dramatically delayed.

“It is entirely immoral of Mears and other housing organisations in the north west to use these unfair and unequal pay rates to try to force down wages on other maintenance contracts in the region.

“There is still time for the companies involved to get round the table and resolve these issues once and for all.”

The workforce is highly disappointed with the attitude of Manchester Council which was aware of the ongoing problems at Manchester Working but went ahead with the TUPE process regardless.